At some point during the last 36 months, there would have been a meeting at Langley, Virginia, the home of the Central Intelligence Agency, when a senior analyst, faced with the top brass of the military, State Department and other intelligence agencies, would have been asked to give an assessment of the most pressing concerns facing US national security.
It is as near certain as anything can be that along with the dread name of Al Qaeda and its offshoots, the situation in the Middle East, Russian designs on Ukraine and North Korea’s typical nuclear sabre rattling, that this individual, if he or she knew their business, would have thrown the word “Scotland” in for good measure.
To properly grasp what I am about to write it’s important that you understand the stakes we were playing for in September of last year, and I don’t mean in relation to ourselves, our kids and our grandkids.
We were, for a time, one of the most important, and observed, countries on Earth.
In the run up to the General Election, we probably still were.
Incredible as it may seem, a lot of people, a lot of Scots, Yes voters and No voters alike, probably don’t have any clear conception of how deep into something much bigger than ourselves we actually are.
When I tell you the result on Thursday will have set off alarm bells all across Washington D.C. I am not exaggerating even a little.
We are at the centre of the universe right now.
People are paying attention to us. Not all of them are friendly.
Here’s a prediction for you.
Pretty soon, if it’s not happening already, some of our newly minted MP’s, without realising it, are going to be up close and personal with US intelligence officials. They may be working in their constituency offices. They may be bringing them their paperwork in Westminster. They may just be turning up at meetings, in the constituencies or in London.
But mark my words, they will be out there. It is beyond any doubt.
And where America goes, Britain always follows.
No transnational operation, which this will certainly be, can be run out of a single capital.
Washington and London will be working together, closely, and where US personnel are not available they will be augmented by folk who are very familiar to a lot of our friends here at home; the line animals of Special Branch and MI5.
The Security Services have had a lot of time on their hands since the fall of the Soviet Union.
At some point during the last 20 years they effectively seized control of anti-terrorism, international banking, fraud investigation, organised crime cases and a raft of other responsibilities from their pals in the Met.
This was formalised in 1996, when legislation extended their remit to cover these areas.
Whereas it was once the job of the Branch to infiltrate radical organisations and keep tabs on “the enemy within” that’s a task they now share with the boys and girls who work out of Thames House.
These people are good at what they do.
Actually, that’s an understatement.
These people are absolutely exceptional at what they do.
It is rare, very rare, for an infiltrated organisation to have members who are good enough at counter intelligence to spot them working inside. On the few occasions it has happened, when these people have had their cover blown, you would be astounded at how deep into the framework they’d actually managed to get.
It is not unusual to find them in long term relationships with unwitting members, including, in some cases, married to them.
Our intelligence agencies also have plenty of experience.
In the last 30 odd years they’ve operated in Ireland, America, the Middle East, the Communist Bloc and Africa.
They’ve also worked here at home, inside organisations like Greenpeace, the McLibel campaign and CND.
During the 1970’s they took a very active, and aggressive, interest in Scottish nationalism. Scotland was one of the few countries which actually had its very own, dedicated, CIA “station chief” working outwith the scrutiny of a US Embassy.
In that time they have certainly had people elected to the national executives of all of the British trade unions and, of course, every single mainstream political party.
All of this is background stuff, a little introduction to the people we’re dealing with.
If I were to go through their methods I would be here all day and all night. Save to say there’s pretty much nothing they’ve not done and are not prepared to do, including using sex to gain information, phone tapping, mail interception, break-ins, fit ups, blackmail and, it’s long been suspected, going even further when “duty” calls and demands extreme measures.
These are dedicated people.
And you know what? Scotland has been a pain in their arse for a long time now.
When the SNP ran their “Scotland’s Oil” campaign in the 1970’s, one of the greatest tricks the intelligence agencies who arrayed against them liked to utilise were the agent provocateur’s; the French phrase quite literally means “inciting agent”.
What these people do is infiltrate an organisation, seek out its most radical members and wind them up.
Those members are then encouraged to commit criminal acts or take rash actions in pursuit of whatever their cause is, and these activities, of course, reflect badly on the organisation as a whole and create the impression in the public eye that it is filled to the brim with nutters, and therefore shouldn’t be, and can’t be, taken seriously.
The media are often utilised to publicise and exaggerate the extent to which these people influence organisation policy, or command numbers within its ranks.
All that sounds familiar, right?
Today we’d call some of those “inciting agents” the cybernats.
Once upon a time those activities were the responsibility of MI5’s now defunct F Branch.
Now it probably lies within the remit of the ever active boys and girls of D Branch.
Back then, before the internet, before the media was able to smear an entire movement based on a few Tweets, these agencies had to rely on more crude methods.
One of the defining characteristics of the SNP’s struggle in the 1970’s and into the early 80’s was the sudden appearance of the Tartan Terrorists, foremost amongst them the Scottish National Liberation Army.
Much has been heard, and written, about these guys over the years.
Much of what has been is bullshit.
According to “official” sources they are still out there, and they’ve been held responsible for a number of incidents, some as recently as just ten years ago. Information given to media sources has accused them of being prepared to go to any conceivable lengths to obtain freedom for Scotland, including the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction, which, some sources say, they possess and have used.
You have to question who those “sources” are.
Like I said, D Branch likes to keep busy. More on them later.
All of this probably sounds ludicrous, and it is certainly is, especially when you consider that the most serious offences for which a “member” of the SNLA has been convicted, in relation to WMD’s, was when Paul Smith pled guilty, in 1993, to sending caustic acid to Cherie Blair, disguised as an aromatherapy product. For that offence, which, if these guys were taken seriously, might have netted him a life sentence, he was given a paltry three years.
As a consequence of this and other such ridiculous, obvious, show-trials, it’s probaby safe to say that the SNLA is almost certainly a creature of the intelligence services, and those amongst its membership who believed they were acting on behalf of Scotland were actually useful tools of a much more sophisticated agency.
The organisation itself was the brainchild (if you can call it that) of a an “eccentric” former officer in the British Army, Major F.C. Boothby, who was almost without question an agent provocateur working for the Branch if not for the Security Service itself.
During the 1980’s these people very successfully worked their way into the public psyche and did a good deal to undermine the Scottish National Party and the independence movement as whole.
All this is to say that we’re not exactly living through new events.
Those in the SNP with long memories know all this stuff, and they’ll be wary of recurrences.
This is why the Tartan Terrorism card wasn’t played during the referendum. Too many people had their eyes open for it. Some of my closest friends were waiting on that shoe to drop all the way through the campaign.
To them, it seemed almost inevitable.
I knew it wouldn’t happen, because, in truth, it wasn’t needed.
Before I carry on, I’m going to make a confession.
I do not believe the result of the Scottish independence referendum was fixed or rigged. I am not convinced by any of the “evidence” that has so far emerged, and I have looked at all that’s come my way. If there’s more out there I’d like to see it, because I want to be as fully informed as I can be, but at the moment I am on the other side of the fence.
It’s important for me to get that clear.
But I’ll tell you something else; had I been in the room at Langley, with a responsibility to act in the interests of US or UK national security (and there would have been representatives from Britain at that meeting, no doubt about it) my recommendation would have been to leave nothing to chance. To influence the result of that vote by any means necessary.
Let me tell you why that would have been my advice.
For one thing, the consequences for global stock markets, had Scotland voted Yes, would have been colossal.
Sterling would have teetered on the brink at the prospect of oil revenues being whipped out of the UK Treasury. It would have required a drastic, permanent, realignment of the whole British economy.
The knock on effects would certainly have reverberated across the Atlantic, from the FTSE to the NYSE, and that would have wiped billions off US Treasury bonds and shares in direct proportion to what happened in London.
Those effects, coming at a time when the two countries were just coming out of a recession would almost certainly have plunged them back into one.
The effects of a Yes vote would not have stopped there.
The European Union would have shuddered under the shockwaves.
It is not commonly understood just how many separatist movements there are operating within the EU, under various national auspices. Everyone knows about the Catalans in Spain, but others are not so well understood.
Belgium alone has at least four distinctive ethnic groupings, each representing numerous political parties of their own, within its borders, who are dedicated to breaking up their national unit.
One political movement amongst many operating in the Brussels Capital Region is named the Rassemblement Wallonie France, and they want Brussels and six Flemish regions in the country to break away and join France.
The party is miniscule in size, its power virtually non-existent, but it’s a microcosm of the complexity of the problems European countries might have faced if Scotland had voted to end the Union.
Those who scoff, who think “big deal”, are missing part of the picture; Brussels is only the seat of the European Union itself and the home base of the NATO alliance.
Croatia, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Finland, France, Greece, Germany, Holland, Italy, Poland, Romania and, of course, Spain all have their own cessationist movements, and that’s to say nothing of those others which actually operate within the UK’s own borders; the Welsh nationalists and everyone from The Party of Cornwall to Yorkshire First.
Needless to say, many of these countries are, in addition to being part of the EU, also part of the NATO alliance, and any political disharmony in them poses problems for the future of that organisation as well as the European Union.
Which brings me nicely to the military concerns.
The military implications of Scottish independence are equally enormous.
Scotland’s role in the defence of the North Atlantic is another area about which the public at large knows very little.
It is not an exaggeration to say that we’re a vital cog in the big wheel.
Strewn across the bottom of the sea to the north of this fair land are a row of sonar buoys stretching all the way to the East Coast of the United States and the naval bases at Norfolk. They are the backbone of NATO’s first line of defence, protecting what’s known as the Greenland-Iceland-UK Gap, the sea lanes into the North Atlantic.
These buoys are there to detect Russian missile submarines passing into the North Atlantic Basin, from where they could strike the United States in such a way as to completely negate the DSP satellites which are there to warn of a nuclear first strike.
That, as you can probably gather, ain’t no small thing.
Added to this would be concerns over Scotland’s ability to create an adequate intelligence service, something Better Together tried to capitalise on during the campaign.
Which brings us to Trident, the future of which virtually assured US intelligence interests.
Had the SNP made good on their manifesto commitment to insist on the removal of Trident from its base at Faslane it is more than possible that continuous at sea deterrence would have been at an end in terms of British defence planning.
The United States may not have been particularly concerned with that; indeed there is much evidence to suggest that they’d rather the British government ditched the idea and focussed on improving its conventional forces.
Nevertheless, uncertainty over any aspect of nuclear technology, far less armed warheads, is not something they’d have taken lightly in D.C. Hare-brained schemes being proposed in Whitehall, such as moving Trident to Gibraltar, would have given the US Department of Defence more headaches than they ever needed.
As a consequence of all this, the Scottish National Party was well aware of the need to keep the United States government informed and pacified in relation to its post-independence plans. This was the primary reason for the shift in policy which resulted in membership of NATO being enshrined, over the objections of many SNP members, in any devolution settlement.
I am sympathetic as to the pressure Salmond and others would have been under. To have done otherwise would certainly have resulted in US action to destabilise the independence movement, and might even have had long term consequences for Scotland.
In spite of that assurance, and that commitment, had I been giving the intelligence briefing and making a recommendation it would not have changed my view that Scottish independence had to be prevented, whatever the cost.
The reasons are obvious; whatever the SNP decided in the here and now would not bind a future, more radical, Scottish government. It would not even hold if there was a new SNP leadership which decided to alter its stance on the issue. Such a government would then have been free to choose its own political alliances, and court whichever friends it liked.
Amongst my concerns would have been the potential for an influx of foreign money into Scottish public life, with the attendant possibilities of outsider involvement in our political affairs.
This is a small country. How much would it cost to buy our political class? Certainly not billions. Real influence might have been gained much more cheaply, and that’s simply a matter of cold hard cash, which says nothing of compromising our leaders and utilising blackmail to extort whatever advantages could be gained from it.
The Russians, in particular, are very, very good at that.
Although the Soviet Union lost the Cold War nobody disputes that the KGB was the world’s most successful intelligence agency, and it mastered those particular skills as a matter of routine.
Before he was elected President of the Russian Republic, from July 1998 until August 1999, Vladimir Putin was the Director of the FSB, the Federal Security Service, which was the successor organisation of the KGB.
He served in that notorious organisation for 16 years, in both the First and Second directorates, and was regarded by all who knew him at the time as a thoroughly skilled, world class operator.
Is all this a little far-fetched?
Maybe. But the intelligence communities are obsessed with “worst case scenario” projections and that one would not have been outside the realms of possibility. After all, the US would not be the only country with an active interest in what an independent Scotland might do.
Where one door closes, another one opens after all.
So there you have the Unholy Trinity of Chaos; economic, political and military consequences that would have made Scottish independence a threat to the national security of the United States and the future of the North Atlantic Treaty.
Those, then, are the stakes this country was playing for.
Those are the matters of enormous weight and significance we held in our hands on 18 September 2014.
If our palms had seemed a little sweaty, those were the reasons why.
This was monumental, far more so than many people realise.
I think that far and away the most compelling factor in my offering such a cold assesment, had I been the guy in the room, would have been that preventing Scotland from gaining its independence would have been both cost effective and relatively easy to do.
That’s what troubles me most about all this.
Had they wanted to rig this, it wouldn’t have been even remotely difficult.
Put yourself in the position of a senior intelligence official.
You have been given a brief; stop Scotland saying Yes.
You have been told that any and all assets will be made available; basically, you have the resources of a nation state at your disposal.
You’ve also been told that technical and political assistance is on offer should you need it.
So you formulate a plan, starting with a list.
You will need the following things; a compliant, pliable media. Intelligence gathering agents on the ground. A working relationship with the police. Reliable people in the political sphere. Friends in high places, to provide a context and to find you dependable “independent” analysis.
Fortunately, the first is easy.
The intelligence services have always had close links with the media, and MI5’s D Branch has a lot of experience in crafting the news to suit their agenda.
Not only are there a strikingly large number of journalists on the Security Services’ payroll (many of them for entirely legitimate reasons; a lot of them work abroad, for example, where they effectively moonlight on behalf of their government) but sub-sections, like their “documents department”, specialise in forgery, turning out stuff which can then be leaked to the press.
So you call some of these friendly journalists, or better yet you approach them through intermediaries, keeping everything “deniable.”
And who are your best bets for that? Equally friendly politicians and those Better Together staffers you maintain relationships with.
So those guys meet the newspapers editors, and on your behalf they pose them leading questions;
“Why aren’t you guys focussing on the SNP’s lack of clarity over EU membership? You know, there’s a lot of data out there on that … have you seen so-and-so’s report? I could get that for you …” and so on and so forth.
You make sure the pressure is relentless.
You feed the No campaign and, through them, the media every negative story you can conjure up.
You even get your little agent provocateurs and other staffers busy embarrassing the Yes campaign with nasty tweets and shocking graffiti and the occasional tossed egg, which, in turn, gives your media buddies plenty to write about.
None of this is terribly complicated, but it can be hugely effective in creating a public perception of the other side as kooks and cranks.
The proving ground for these kind of tactics was the North of Ireland during The Troubles, where the Security Services worked hand in hand with the BBC and other media outlets to bury stories they didn’t want to get out, to spread disinformation, to smear people they didn’t like and to ferment tensions between the communities.
A lot of incredible material has been released to the public over the past ten years concerning those things; documentary makers and writers have been kept well busy on the subject as a direct result.
Yet one of the most famous books on the subject was released in 1984, whilst the conflict still raged on the streets of Belfast and Derry.
It was called Ireland: The Propaganda War, The British Media and the Battle for the Hearts and Minds.
It’s worth a look, if you can find it, and you want to know how the Secret State operates.
So, with your media friends working overtime next you get your line animals into play, bringing you back as much information on what the other side is up to as it’s possible to get.
Intelligence operations depend on that more than anything else; Sun Tzu, whose writings are studied in every war college and military classroom in the world was the one who said “if you know your enemy as you know yourself, you will not be imperilled in a hundred battles.”
So you get them into position, even moving some into the Yes Campaign headquarters if that can be achieved, and you make sure you know what the opposition is doing.
If your guys are really good you try and steer them into leadership roles, because then not only can you second guess your rivals but you can actually help to steer their agenda right where you want it to go.
You can actually force them into mistakes that you then jump all over.
You cultivate your relationships with the police too. That makes it easier when you want to illegally tap phones, enter premises, steal data from hard-drives, hack computers and all the other naughty little deeds intelligence officers get up to in pursuit of their goals.
You also need good relations with the top brass, because you’ll need them on the day of the vote.
More on that a little later on.
Having friends in politics helps, as should be obvious.
For one thing, it’s good if one of the front men in the campaign is known to you and your people, like, say for example, someone with links to a CIA funded think-tank like the Henry Jackson Society.
International politicians on whom you can rely are useful too, of course.
It helps if they are senior officials in organisations like the EU, such as Jose Manuel Barroso, who’s “advice” to the Westminster government helped fill the papers with negative stories about Scotland’s chances of automatic EU membership.
Of course, Barroso is famous for more than just being the President of the EU Commission.
He was Prime Minister of Portugal when that country hosted the Azores Conference, on the island of Terceira, in March 2003, between his government, the government of Spain, that of Tony Blair and the Bush administration.
It was at that meeting that the “coalition of the willing” was formed to set in motion the invasion of Iraq.
Since time immemorial, the intelligence community has been involved, alongside big business, in funding academic organisations throughout the world.
It’s not generally appreciated, but much of the “independent expert analysis” that is provided to politicians and news organisations is put together by organisations whose roots are in big business and the military/intelligence agencies.
This helps to keep the national conversation rooted in what these people cynically label the “centre ground”.
As a consequence, getting your hands on reports which you can pass to the media, and which “prove” all the negatives you’ve been pushing like hard drugs, is child’s play.
One other thing you need to be sure of; you need to make sure that the public believes that you’re running a clean game. So you have to prepare for that in advance. The result, when it comes, cannot look as if it’s staged.
So you need friends in the polling companies too.
One of the first heads of Ipsos-Mori, and still working within the corporation today, is a guy called Robert Worcester, now Sir Robert Worcester. He holds both US and UK citizenship, and he served in the US military, in the Army Core of Engineers in Korea.
He then went on to work for McKinsey and Company.
And who are McKinsey and Company?
Only one of the largest consulting corporations in the world, with government contracts in multiple jurisdictions.
Amongst other activities, they have provided advisory staff for the Tony Blair Foundation and here in the UK they worked with the Cameron government to craft the Health and Social Care Act 2012, the one which abolished National Health Primary Trusts and the Strategic Health Authorities, and opened the door wide to private provision in the NHS.
Friends do friends favours, and with so much at stake for the UK and the United States, with important strategic interests up for grabs, what do you expect people who owe everything to these countries to do when faced with such a crisis?
Whatever they have to.
So poll after poll comes out, showing No in a clear lead.
But you also know you’re not the only one polling.
The Yes campaign has its own information on that score, and there’s talk that it shows a different result.
So you make sure that at least one of your major opinion polls, one that gets national coverage, shows Yes is edging in front.
Then you go straight back to showing No in a steady lead.
As all this is going on, those busy bees at D Branch are working away on forging postal ballots for the first part of the referendum rigging itself.
This is also relatively easy to do.
During the referendum, a staggering 789,024 postal ballots were requested, amounting to almost a quarter of all registered voters.
3.6 million people actually cast their vote, and the winning margin was under 400,000.
On the day of the vote itself, one other factor comes into play; the way votes are distributed across the country.
See, rigging a general election is a far more complicated task than doing something like this. In a general election each constituency has a separate count. Ballot boxes are brought from each one, and separated.
Here, you have all the ballot papers together so local variations in voting cannot be scrutinised as closely as would otherwise be the case.
Let me tell you what that means, in practical terms.
Before the first ballot was even cast, polling on the ground would have revealed those areas of the country which were most likely to vote Yes. A reasonably good surveying organisation would have been able to pinpoint the exact spread of votes within those areas, narrowing them down to individual districts and revealing which way they were going to vote.
Say you have a city called Caledonia. You know that city is going to broadly vote Yes.
So you analyse the data to identify those areas of the city where the Yes vote is going to be strongest.
Because you have an unlimited budget and access to all the information you require you also know how many people live in each area, so you can work out a rough tally of the likely number of votes for Yes and No within each one.
In a general election, where each “area” is an individual seat there would be the risk of getting caught if you skewed the result one way or another. It would show up, and stand out, like a spike on a graph.
But because the referendum ballots are counted in a different way, it is that much easier to dump a few thousand ballot papers where you need them to be … because remember, you know what the likely Yes districts are and you can focus on those.
The other areas within the city are voting your way, and so you don’t trouble yourself with them.
And how do you do the “dump”? Well, that too is easy.
Again, it works in your favour that the ballot papers are all going to centralised, regional counts. You have the money to do whatever you need done. You have the support of people on the ground, in particular the police.
(Told you we’d get to them, didn’t I?)
These are career officers for the most part, whose loyalty to the state is without question.
Their job is to make sure the ballot papers get from the polling stations to the counts without interference.
But with the stakes this high, you make sure their bosses know what needs to be done.
With the police on your side there’s no end to what can be accomplished.
Ballot boxes can be loaded and unloaded. Swapped. Made to disappear. Lost, and found again, in transit.
It doesn’t matter which variation of the tune you play, it all sounds the same.
Were you shocked, on the night, that certain areas which were supposed to vote Yes voted No?
Were you surprised the margin of victory in cities like Glasgow wasn’t wider?
All it takes are a few tens of thousands of votes, a couple of dozen ballot boxes across the country, on top of the postal vote forgeries and everything comes out the way you want it to, broadly reflecting your pre-determined opinion polls.
Of course, you can’t have anything throwing a spanner in the works, even at the final stages, so you make sure there’s no polling company on the ground, on the day, to do an exit poll.
I don’t think it needs saying that they are scarily accurate.
In light of that, it would not look good if their result and the “official return” were radically at odds with one another.
And like any great conspiracy none of this needs to be explicitly planned or explained to the principals involved.
These things work best when every single person, every little cog in the machine, does only its own individual job.
They don’t interact. They don’t intersect.
The only actual connection, linking it all, is completely hidden from view.
Try proving it ever happened. Try proving any of it.
History tells us though that it has happened before, and much closer to home than you might care to know or want to think about.
In 1991, John Major bestowed an honour upon Dame Shirley Porter, who had led what was termed a “spectacular” triumph in the Westminster Council Elections the previous year.
Whilst leader of that council she had implemented a policy called “Building Stable Communities.”
It would come to be known as the Houses For Votes scandal.
What it came down to, basically, was using the very type of analysis I suggested above to discover which areas of the local authority were most likely to vote Labour and which were going to vote Tory.
In the two years before the local elections of 1990, she and her colleagues on the council made sure that the Labour areas were emptied, due to a combination of factors including cutting services in those specific boroughs and then offering residents a move to nicer areas, at tremendous cost to the tax payer. It worked. The Tories were elected in a landslide.
Local tax payers and Labour politicians smelled a rat, but by the time it all came out she was retired and living in Israel.
She was enormously wealthy, and in 1996 the local authority investigations deemed the policy illegal and they went after her in court.
During the legal battles that followed, she was able to transfer the bulk of her estimated £70 million fortune to the control of her family.
The tax payers saw very little of their cash.
It’s more common than you’d think.
What’s more, the intelligence agencies of the United States and the United Kingdom have perpetrated voter fraud all over the world.
If you think it couldn’t happen here, in the full glare of the media, think again.
In the year 2000, the entire world was watching when George W. Bush scammed the American people and deprived Al Gore of the Presidency in one of the most egregious, and notorious, voter frauds in history, the “hanging chads” scandal in Florida.
I stated right at the start that it is not my view that this actually happened.
Indeed, I don’t think it did but I am open minded and it didn’t take long to war-game a scenario and imagine the circumstances by which it could have been done. The reasons for doing it are pretty self-evident.
Yet in the end, I sometimes wonder if the deeper truth is to say that I don’t disbelieve this but heartily wish that I did.
Knowing the stakes it’s what I would have done, and it frankly astonishes me that they were actually willing to leave it in the hands of fate.
But trying to wrap your head around the implications of something like this …
Well it doesn’t really bear thinking about when you get right down to it.
Because if it happened, if it happened just so, if it happened by some other means, if it happened at all, then we didn’t really have a national debate at all. We didn’t have a referendum. We didn’t come close because we didn’t stand a chance.
It was all decided for us, before a speech was ever made, before a television debate was ever had, before a vote was ever cast.
And in those circumstances, what are the chances they’ll let us win next time?
Or the time after that? Or the time after that?
If they did it, they’ll do it again and we’ll never be able to prove it any more than we can now.
So ask me, and I’ll tell you; this one was clean.
They beat us fair and square.
Because only by believing that can I believe that next time we’ll get them.
And I do. I really, really do.
What’s the alternative?
Keep the faith, brothers and sisters.
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